Las Vegas Sun senior programmer Deryck Hodge gave a tutorial on building Facebook applications to a packed audience of journalists Friday afternoon. Hodge previously worked at the Washington Post, where he built the organization's first Facebook apps. The following is a Q&A with Hodge about common mistakes people make when integrating news with social networking, and the shared future of the two mediums.
There was a big turnout to the Facebook API workshop. Why do you think that is?
Probably because Facebook is a hot topic. It's the "in" thing right now, one of the top sites on the 'net. I would say the popularity of the site alone has people curious about it.
Do you think that Facebook apps are a good way to reach younger audiences that aren't as tuned in to the news?
I would say the jury's still out on that, to be totally honest with you. There's two parts to that. One is that I think it's a bit of a misnomer that you go to Facebook for a young audience. I think Facebook has a pretty diverse audience, so I wouldn't think about Facebook in terms of a young audience even though it's perceived that way.
And two, in regards to how young audiences deal with the news, the habits are so different that if you try to go to Facebook and say, "I want to try to get young people just to come to my site," I think that's probably going to be problematic. But if you say, "I want to take my news to them via Facebook," then I think you could be successful with that.
What do you think the future of the relationship between social networking and online news might be?
To me, everything online is social at this point, so I think there's virtually no distinction. People do things in social groups; the web really is no different. The web is just normal human experience written by bits on a wire, right? So when people go online, they're looking to do things collaboratively - it's like the local community of the town hall or the church or the school, and that all is just being replicated online. So I think news in that regard will just be social in the nature that people do things together socially. It's just like if you're working and you say, "Oh, did you see this story in the paper?" - that's just going to happen online now.
What is the most common pitfall of designing applications for a social network?
Not making them social. The most common pitfall is just thinking, "Oh, I've got my web page and I want people to come to my web page, and I'm just serving them information and not asking them to do anything with that information." And that's where your social interaction comes from.
It's not only, "Here's some information," but "Here's something to do with that information." So the most common pitfall is not making them social.